Saturday, April 22, 2006

New Technology and Old-Fashioned Communication

This is another guest blog by Mark, but on a slightly different topic to his previous posts.

A move across continents is, of course, a far easier business now than it would have been even ten years ago. Communicating with friends and family back home is a doddle via email and instant messaging, but there are other ways in which one can use the internet to communicate across the seas, ideal for keeping in touch with those among one's friends and family who are less computer-literate. Let me mention two in particular:

(1) Skype Out: Several of the Instant Messaging services (Yahoo!, MSN etc.) have an audio / video facility and so, with your broadband internet connection, you can talk to friends and family back home with ease, and even see their expressions and let them see yours. You can even show them your new pet cats. But this has two major drawbacks. First, you need your friends to be on-line when you are on-line yourself, and with the time difference, this is often not the case. Second, and more seriously, lots of people still do not have computers connected to the internet, and those who do have simply never entered the world of instant messaging. But there's a great way around these problems: Skype Out allows you to telephone people from your computer. It's very straightforward -- just download the software, plug in your headset and microphone, add some credit to your account, and then you are ready to telephone your friends overseas for next to nothing. It's not free, but it is cheap. We pay about a cent a minute to contact land-lines in the UK. Sometimes Skype will give you some free credit too. Occasionally one is unlucky and one gets a terrible line, but most of the time the line is great.

(2) Superletter: What about writing to those with no email? We all have older family members and older friends who have not joined the computer revolution. When I want to write to them (I'm not very good with paper, pens, envelopes, stamps and all that kerfuffle), I use I first discovered this when a very good friend was out in Iraq. One can send a bluey for free to armed forces using Superletter. Having discovered it, I now use it to write letters to friends and family in the UK who don't have email. It doesn't cost much for each letter, 40 cents or so [cheaper than a stamp (Ed.)], and you get your first few free when you sign up. The gist of it is very simple: write the letter and add in the address. Superletter deliver it by post for you, usually about 48 hours after writing. One drawback: it strips out a lot of punctuation, but otherwise it's an excellent service.

Note: I am not affiliated with either of the above, nor am I profiting from recommending them! There are, I dare say, competitors to these, e.g. I know Yahoo! runs a similar service to Skype.

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